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LEADER AND STATESMAN.
S a politician, General Garfield was peculiar. In fact, he was
scarcely a politician at all. The title of this chapter tells what he was. While he was in Europe the inflation cry was raised. Greenbacks were good. The Government printing-presses were idle. Why not put the presses at work making more greenbacks? There were plenty of worthy, industrtous men, who were poor. Why not have money enough to place every one in comfortable circumstances? What a capital idea! Why had no one thought of it before? The West, and particularly Ohio, laughed aloud with pleasure at the new fountain of wealth which had been right under the people's noses all the time, and no one ever suspected it. In order to make things even all around, it was the thing to do to make the bondholders take greenbacks instead of gold for their bonds. If they objected, no matter; they could stand it. Ohio Republicans took up this battle cry. General Garfield's constituents were for inflation with all their hearts. As for himself he had, in March, 1866, declared for hard money, and for the payment of the bonds in gold. Congressmen have to go to the country every two years, so that the popular sentiment may be constantly represented in the Lower House of Congress. Garfield had been reëlected three times. To secure another election, most men would have found their political opinions, about election time, gradually coming around to those of the people. Read the following extract from a letter by General Garfield to his confidential friend, Hinsdale, written March 8, 1868:
"The State convention at Columbus has committed itself to some financial doctrines that, if I understand them, I can not and will not indorse. If my
constituents approve them, they can not approve me. Before many weeks my immediate political future will be decided. I care less about the result than I have ever cared before.”
How is that for independence?
But the private letter was only the preface to an expression of the same thing in public. When General Garfield came home his friends found that he was immovable on the financial question. A short time before the nominating convention he was about to return to Washington. Some friends at Jefferson arranged to give him a reception on the eve of his departure. There was to be some speech-making. His friends had urged him to let the financial question alone. The welcoming address contained some broad hints. The speaker hinted at the greenback platform, and delicately intimated that General Garfield's return was conditioned upon his indorsement of the platform. Then the thunderer let fly. Garfield took up the question of finance, and, in the boldest terms, denounced the party platform as dishonest and despicable. He declared that if a life-time of office were offered him, with the understanding that he was to support the platform, he would refuse it at once.
Then he took himself off to Washington. When the time for the convention came he was renominated, and a short time later elected.
It is impossible to even sketch the varied activities of the man from this time on, in Congress. His voluminous reports, his comprehensive debates on every leading subject, his immense and varied committee work, comprise a vast field, the very outline of which would surpass the limits of this work. No subject of national importance escaped his attention. Reconstruction, pensions, navigation, tariff, internal improvements, the census, education, the Indian question, corporations, the currency, national banks, public expenditures, civil service reform, railways, civil rights, polygamy, the Chinese—these are only a few of the great subjects which he mastered. His speeches are incomparable for their profound learning, their exhaustive research, their glowing rhetoric. They might serve as text-books upon the great governmental problems of the age. In looking over the record of the proceedings in Congress at this period, one can but be impressed with the marked superiority of his efforts over those of the large majority of his compeers. However worthy the utterances of these latter may be viewed alone, they are dwarfed by the forced comparison with the productions of his majestic mind. These speeches mark the man as a carefully trained intellectual giant, perfectly at home and a terror in the field of debate. They are of inestimable value now, as giving his intellectual biography.
On December 14, 1868, he introduced a bill “ To strengthen the public credit.” This subsequently became a part of the great bill making our bonds payable in gold. Around this fortification of the public credit, for ten years, political warfare raged the fiercest, but the rampart was never taken ; and, in 1879, when resumption was accomplished, the law still remained on the statute book. Every attempt to repeal it was fought by Garfield on the principles of political science, and his name must be placed with those of Grant and Sherman on this question.
February 26, 1869, General Garfield, as Chairman of the Military Committee, made the monster report upon the reorganization of the army. It contains one hundred and thirty-seven printed pages. The stupendous problem of readjusting the armies of the republic to a peace footing, had occupied Garfield for years. His report was the result of examinations of all the leading army officers. It contained the history of each department of the army. It illuminated all the dark corners, the secret channels, the hidden chambers of corruption which had been constructed in the military policy of the country, and was the product of enormous labor..
In the spring of 1869 General Garfield introduced a resolution for the appointment of a committee to examine into the necessities for legislation upon the subject of the ninth census, to be taken the following year. He was appointed chairman. His speeches on the great subject of statistics are most characteristic. They are wholly out of the rut of Congressional speeches. They show Garfield in the light of a political scientist. Nothing could more strikingly prove the enormous reach of his mind. He showed himself abreast of the scientific thought of the age. Volume after volume of the Congressional Globe will be searched in vain to find speeches from any other man which even approximate these studies in the region of social science. Nowhere in or out of Congress can be found so succinct and admirable a statement of the importance of statistics. Here is an extract from his first speech, made April 6, 1869 :
“This is the age of statistics, Mr. Speaker. The word “statistics' itself did not exist until 1749, whence we date the beginning of a new science on which modern legislation must be based, in order to be permanent. The treatise of Achenwall, the German philosopher who originated the word, laid the foundation of many of the greatest reforms in modern legislation. Statistics are state facts, facts for the consideration of statesmen, such as they may not neglect with safety. It has been truly said that statistics are history in repose; history is statistics in motion. If we neglect the one, we shall deserve to be neglected by the other. The legislator without statistics is like the mariner at sea without the compass. Nothing can safely be committed to his guidance. A question of fearful importance, the well-being of this Republic, has agitated this House for many weeks. It is this: Are our rich men growing richer, and our poor growing poorer? And how can this most vital question be settled, except by the most careful and honest examination of the facts? Who can doubt that the next census will reveal to us more important truths concerning the situation of our people than any census ever taken by any nation? By what standard could we measure the value of a complete, perfect record of the condition of the people of this country, and such facts as should exhibit their burdens and their strength? Who doubts that it would be a document of inestimable value to the legislator and the nation? How to achieve it, how to accomplish it, is the great question.
“We are near the end of a decade that has been full of earthquakes, and amid the tumult we have lost our reckoning. We do not yet comprehend the stupendous changes through which we have passed, nor can we until the whole field is resurveyed. If a thousand volcanoes had been bursting beneath the ocean, the mariner would need new charts before he could safely sail the seas again. We are soon to set out on our next decade with a thousand new elements thrown in upon us by the war. The way is trackless. Who shall pilot us? The war repealed a part of our venerable census law. One schedule was devoted to slaves. Thank God! it is useless now. Old things have passed away, and a multitude of new things are to be here recorded; and not only the things to be taken, but the manner of taking them, requires a thorough remodeling at our hands. If this Congress does not worthily meet the demands of this great occasion, every member must bear no small share of the odium that justly attaches to men who fail to discharge duties of momentous importance, which once neglected can never be performed.”
On December 16, 1867, General Garfield made a second speech on the subject, so elaborate and remarkable, so unlike any thing to be found elsewhere in all the annals of the American Congress, that we yield large space to it. The latter part of the speech relates to the defects of the old law, and the advantages of the proposed new one:
“The modern census is so closely related to the science of statistics that no general discussion of it is possible without considering the principles on which statistical science rests and the objects which it proposes to reach.
“The science of statistics is of recent date, and, like many of its sister sciences, owes its origin to the best and freest impulses of modern civilization. The enumerations of inhabitants and the appraisements of property made by some of the nations of antiquity were practical means employed sometimes to distribute political power, but more frequently to adjust the burdens of war, but no attempt was made among them to classify the facts obtained so as to make them the basis of scientific induction. The thought of studying these facts to ascertain the wants of society had not then dawned upon the human mind, and, of course, there was not a science of statistics in this modern sense.
“It is never easy to fix the precise date of the birth of any science, but we may safely say that statistics did not enter its scientific phase before 1749, when it received from Professor Achenwall, of Göttingen, not only its name, but the first comprehensive statement of its principles. Without pausing to trace the stages of its growth, some of the results of the cultivation of statistics in the spirit and methods of science may be stated as germane to this discussion:
"1. It has developed the truth that society is an organism, whose ele